A Daily Liturgy for ‘Ordinary’ Time
I did not grow up in a tradition that followed a liturgical calendar beyond lighting Advent candles and decorating for Christmas every year. Easter was a big holiday, but we sort of made a joke out of Lent (e.g., I’m giving up doing laundry for Lent). The idea of dividing the year up into different seasons is somewhat foreign to me.
However, as I have aged a bit, I have found that a liturgical view of the year has a lot of benefits. It can help shape our lives by helping us rehearse the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Following a liturgical calendar and readings can help keep us from only reading the parts of the scriptures that we find most appealing and forces us to engage the more challenging texts on a regular basis. Having set times of reflection and repentance can help us remember just how dependent we are on the mercy of God and how prone we are to forget him when things are going well.
Aren’t We Living in ‘Extraordinary’ Times?
We are currently in a season in the church calendar called ordinary time. It is supposed to be a time of growth, both personal and corporate, which focuses on the life and ministry of Jesus. It is a time that is marked by neither the celebrations and feasting of Christmas and Easter, nor the times of preparation and repentance of Advent and Lent.
When I first heard of ordinary time (in my 20s), I did not like the concept. It seemed to me that we were living in particularly extraordinary times since the Kingdom of Heaven has invaded creation and the ultimate power of death has been broken once and for all. We are living in the time between the resurrection and the Parousia! Considering that the death and resurrection of Jesus has changed everything, how could any time be considered ordinary?
However, as I have grown older and learned that ordinary came from the Latin ordinal (meaning counted), I have come to appreciate the need for ordinary time in both senses of the word.
To be honest, I am too easily distracted by things around me. If I don’t have some sort of rhythm or plan to my life, I find that I am swept up in competing messages from the world around me. The urgent, the entertaining, the convenient, etc. can easily crowd out the necessary time with God, and weeks and months have slipped by without any sense of growing closer to him.
Focusing ourselves on the Kingdom
Liturgy, even a daily liturgy, can be helpful in focusing my mind and life around the spiritual realities of the kingdom of God. In my experience, fixing some time in my day for prayer, thanksgiving, and “checking in” with the One who created me helps me in my endeavor to grow in God’s love and mercy. To be clear, I am not talking about what most of us would call daily devotions or a quiet time. I am talking about something that happens multiple times a day—a rhythm if you will of prayer, reading, and meditation. It is something that helps me maintain my focus on God and realize that all is gift.
In reality, ordinary time is about shifting our focus from the “main events” of the Christian year to the ministry and teaching of Jesus. A time to read, study, and actively reflect on how we can move—in partnership with God—into a closer imitation of Christ in the “ordinary” daily activities of our lives. If it is expected that we will become disciples (and I believe that we are called to do just that) and live a life that is more in tune with our Savior, then perhaps we should consciously plan out a rhythm to our days (weeks and months too, for that matter) that includes times of prayer, praise, thanksgiving, confession, reading, meditation, and reflection. A rhythm that goes beyond the daily devotions/quiet time that most of us have been raised on. Perhaps this daily liturgy should become part of the warp and woof of our lives.
Suggestions for A Daily Liturgy
To that end, I would like to make a few suggestions as a starting point.
1) Plan times into your day for a brief (5–10 minute) pause to pray, give thanks, and invite God into your day. Whether you use a prayer book (like the Book of Common Prayer or the Celtic Daily Prayer Book) or a more spontaneous approach, setting a few times of prayer aside can focus you on God and His actions in your life and the lives of those around you.
2) Plan some times of retreat into your year. Most of us spend a lot of time saving for and planning out our family vacations each year. Try to set aside a weekend once or twice a year for a personal retreat to a retreat center for some extended times of prayer and relaxing in God’s presence.
3) Make a time of thanksgiving and gratitude part of your daily prayer time at the end of each day. The apostle Paul is the source for this practice. He routinely encourages the churches to which he writes to give thanks in all things. I cannot emphasize just how much being grateful for even the small things changes our perspective on what God is doing in the world and in our lives.
Breaking out of Constant Busy-Ness
I have one final thought. If you try to plan a daily “liturgy” in your life, expect some resistance. We have been programmed to think that we have to be busy for all our waking hours with some task or other, and it will be difficult to break out of that mindset.
When we get overwhelmed with what life is throwing at us, it is usually easiest to cut out anything that has to do with God first. After all, we can always add that back in when things calm down a bit. In truth, we too often unconsciously think that the spiritual things are the most disposable and the least necessary to our lives and never get around to putting them back in. Since nature abhors a vacuum, the tasks that we have prioritized then tend to expand to fill our free hours. So, I would encourage you to plan carefully and put at least three purposeful times of prayer, thanksgiving, and “checking in” with God into your daily schedule and make them a priority.
Let me close with the words of Paul to the Colossians:
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.(Col. 3:15-17, ESV).